One of the most difficult, diabolical philosophical issues with which one can grapple when writing movie reviews is the conflict between personal tastes and preferences versus a more hypothetical, abstract, universal standard of quality.
The conflict tends to go like this: "Wow, this is a really great movie. I really like it. I think I'll give it an A. Wait a second... Is this really a ‘great movie' or is it simply the kind of movie that I like? Is it a ‘great movie' or is it a great movie for me?"
I mean I suppose it's kind of like the idea that one should be judged by a jury of one's peers. So many movies out there - the majority of films probably - really aren't made for me, or for any one person. How relevant should my thoughts be considered regarding the latest Olsen twins movie? What about an Evangelical Christian Mom's opinion on "Hostel: Part II"? I suppose such reviews could be interesting or entertaining to read but they would not necessarily be all that useful for parties interested in figuring out if a film is worth seeing.
The nature of critical writing and even op/ed writing in general compounds the problem. For example, when making a statement of opinion, one writes "‘Nancy Drew' is a mediocre film." It's just stronger, more acceptable writing than "I think ‘Nancy Drew' is a mediocre film," or the more accurate "I perceive ‘Nancy Drew' to be a mediocre film."
We don't really know that "Nancy Drew" is a mediocre film. There's no objective way to measure film quality. Tickets sold? The opinion of the masses? The opinions of a select group of critics who ‘know' what a good film is? Perhaps some kind of test of time in which we see which films having staying power?
No. There's nothing except various subjective opinions. One need not panic, though, sometimes the proper collection of subjective opinions can be very useful. For example, the fact that the country's most important conservative magazine, National Review, and the flagship journal of the Left, The Nation, both agree that the war on drugs is a failure. That means something, doesn't it?
I have a similar proposal for today's film in question.
"Nancy Drew" begins with the classic character (Emma Roberts, Julia Roberts' niece) as she's been known by millions of readers since 1930: "sleuthing" - a word rarely heard today but many a time in this film. In a charming small town she's practically a legend with her continual endeavors to solve various crimes and mysteries.
Just on the heels of her most recent triumph she and her father (Tate Donovan) leave, moving to Los Angeles. It's here that Nancy will come up against two challenges. The first is a long unsolved mystery about the death of the previous owner of the house into which Nancy and her father move: ‘70s movie star Dehlia Draycott (Laura Elena Harring.) Of course all the required elements are there: a run-down house with secret passages, a creepy caretaker, and random murder attempts when Nancy is getting too close to the truth.
But that's all old hat for Nancy. Her new challenge is the modern high school. Take Nancy Drew and drop her into a cross of "Clueless" and "Mean Girls" and you've got this plot thread. Nancy is the uber-overachiever and her old-fashioned clothes, positive attitude, and ‘50s etiquette don't quite gel with the little Lindsay Lohans of her new school. Nancy still manages to find admirers though, namely the short, incredibly annoying 12-year-old Corky (Josh Flitter.) Corky is basically the Jar Jar Binks of the film. Were there Nancy Drew fanatics on par with the most devoted of "Star Wars" fanboys - and there probably are somewhere - I imagine some enterprising geek might painstakingly make a Corky-free, edited version of the film.
With the previous discussion in mind, one can perhaps see the dilemma in critiquing the film. Is the opinion of someone like me really of any importance or relevance?
Cue additional voices. I, a 23-year-old male cinephile, attended "Nancy Drew" with three individuals: a 23-year-old, platonic female friend who is a fan of the books, my 17-year-old brother who was drawn to the movie primarily because of Emma Roberts, and my 13-year-old sister who is probably the target audience. Despite our different backgrounds and perspectives we all came to a pretty unified decision: "Nancy Drew" is a mediocre film. We all pretty much agreed on a C. We even had pretty similar criticisms. The mystery was not particularly compelling. The film was slow and not very engaging until it hit the climax. And Corky is annoying as hell.
It's far from a horrible movie. Roberts in particular was excellent. She really captured her character. The film's failings do not fall at her feet. If anything she shows that even in a weak movie she can come out on top. We're sure to see much more of her in the future.
No, I'd lay the blame primarily on the screenplay. It's just not a very compelling story. Thus the guilty parties would be writer/director Andrew Fleming and co-screenwriter Tiffany Paulsen. I'm particularly disappointed in Fleming. One of my very favorite comedies is his 1999 movie "Dick" starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams. "Dick" twists the story of Watergate and the fall of Richard Nixon to include two ditzy teenage girls who unknowingly stumble into history, being responsible for many mysterious historical events.
What was so wonderful about "Dick" is that it's a teenager film that's still incredibly smart and clever. It fulfills the rule I mentioned two weeks ago in my review of "Knocked Up." It has a careful combination of both smart and dumb humor. I expected the same with "Nancy Drew." It certainly had the potential to take the conventions of the Nancy Drew books and satirize and celebrate them.
It's disappointing that the film was unable to do that.